Album Review: Sun Airway - Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier
While Nocturne Of Exploded Crystal Chandelier is the first full-length offering from Philadelphia bliss pop duo Sun Airway, the pair of Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill were formerly two-fifths of mid-noughties straight-up pop/rock outfit The A-Sides. Their latest venture – released today on this side of the pond, nearly three months after dropping Stateside – gets off to a pleasantly assured start: opener ‘Infinity’ is a beautifully understated wash of beatless soundwaves that recalls Air France’s supreme No Way Down EP from a few years back; things then get even better on ‘American West’, a near-perfect electropop number that will remind you Cut Copy have a new album on the way soon.
Unfortunately, however, as is the case with so many debuts, this strong opening proves to be a false dawn, and there’s precious little across the remaining eight tracks that comes even close to matching ‘American West’’s winning formula. Part of the problem appears to be rooted in a (perhaps understandable) identity crisis: Barthmus and Marsceill seem unsure whether they want to commit fully to the blog-friendly brand of Animal Collective-lite evidenced on tracks like ‘Waiting On You’ and ‘Oh, Naoko’ or instead cling to the more conventional song structures of ‘Shared Piano’ and closer ‘Five Years’. It’s no surprise to learn that the bulk of Nocturne’s ten tracks had already been demoed before The A-Sides called it a day, and it’s as though the pair have tried here to remodel their essentially indie pop sound with the help of a new name and a few Pro Tools tutorials, à la The Postal Service. The result is an inconsistent listening experience, the album never quite managing to settle on a particular mood or feel; even Barthmus’ vocals flit uneasily between Bono-aping pomp (‘Put The Days Away’) and distant Panda Bear-like echoes (‘Actors’).
Of course, it hardly helps that the songwriting is undeniably weak in places, with tracks like ‘Your Moon’ and ‘Swallowed by The Night’ likely to pass you by before you’ve even realised you’re listening to them. Nor is the faintly ridiculous album title a sign of lyrical abstraction – instead, it’s best read as a prelude to some pretty cringe-worthy stabs at over-egged feeling (“We just dance beneath the sea of snakes”, anyone?!?). Ultimately, ‘Shared Piano’’s chorus of “I don’t know where you go / Oh, I swear you fade into the air like smoke” offers an unintentionally accurate summary of just how vapid and uninspiring much of Nocturne sounds. Sadly, this is a flight that never really takes off.